BOULDER — Last week, Alexus Johnson claimed that the Monarch girls basketball team could win the state championship with or without her in the lineup.
Well, Alexus, many will respectfully disagree, especially after Wednesday night.
The senior center helped resuscitate the Coyotes from an abyss of early ineptitude in the Class 5A semifinals, and her late heroics propelled Monarch to a 69-57 win against Regis Jesuit at the Coors Events Center.
“I’m not sure if they thought we were beat when we were down 10,” said Johnson, who scored 26 points and grabbed 12 rebounds. “I don’t know how it happened, but we grinded it out.”
Here’s how it happened: The Coyotes (22-5) scored a ridiculous 37 points in the fourth quarter to escape the early doldrums, a quarter in which Johnson scored 14 points and the Coyotes drilled 21 of 27 foul shots.
The Coyotes will take on Front Range League rival Legacy in the championship game Friday night. The Coyotes are 2-0 against Legacy this season.
Monarch was visibly affected by the shot-blocking Raiders (22-5), particularly Duke-bound Katie Heckman, who swatted six shots. The Coyotes managed only 15 first-half points and struggled well into the third quarter.
“We started out slow, but I didn’t accept it. I wasn’t going to let us lose,” Coyotes guard Rebecca Richmond said. “You’re not going to play the last half like you’re going to lose, and when I saw the time and I saw the scoreboard, I said ‘Hell no.'”
Richmond clearly had a sense of urgency when Monarch trailed by 10 in the third quarter, seemingly the most cognizant Coyote of the situation. Her desperation must have rubbed off, as Monarch put together a 20-3 run early in the fourth to tip the scales.
A three-point play by Johnson cut it to 41-39, Ashton Davis nailed a 3-pointer to put the Coyotes up 42-41, then Johnson drilled three straight 3-pointers.
“We were getting good shots in the first half but they just weren’t falling through,” Davis said. “We just kept believing that we they were going to start falling and they finally did.”
Monarch got a measure of revenge for its 44-37 loss to Regis in the 2009 championship, the Coyotes’ only previous appearance in the title game. For awhile, it looked like it would remain that way. But Monarch had an inking that the tide would reverse after managing to stay within five at halftime despite shooting 5-for-27.
“They changed some of our shots, but we told our kids to continue to take it to them,” Monarch coach Gail Hook said. “Our seniors made some key plays in that second half and really got us going there.”
Richmond, who played the part of heart and soul, finished with 12 points before fouling out in the final minute. Davis made only one field goal, but it was the go-ahead 3 (she also went 5 for 6 at the line in the fourth).
Mae Williams, a sophomore who started to give the Coyotes some extra help in the post against the sizable Raiders, added 12 points.
Point guard Marquelle Dent led Regis with 22 points, but the Raiders’ loss ensured that no Continental League team would compete for the 5A title for only the second time since the turn of the century.
“I think it’s really awesome that we have two teams from our league (the Front Range) that get to battle for the state championship,” Davis said.
Monarch 69, Regis Jesuit 57
At Coors Events Center
Richmond 3 5-6 12, Davis 1 6-8 9, Malcolm-Peck 2 0-0 4, Johnson 7 9-11 26, Eisler 1 2-4 4, Stimac 0 2-2 2, Williams 3 6-8 12, Dietz 0 0-0 0. Totals 17 30-39 69.
REGIS JESUIT (22-5)
Hall 3 0-0 6, Kernishnik 1 0-0 3, Heckman 4 2-7 10, Akigbogun 4 1-2 9, Dent 8 5-7 22, Lidge 1 1-2 4, Molyneaux 1 1-2 3. Totals 22 10-20 57.
Score by quarters:
Monarch 8 7 17 37 — 69
Regis Jesuit 10 10 18 19 — 57
3-point field goals — Monarch (5): Johnson 3, Davis, Richmond; Regis Jesuit (3): Dent, Lidge, Kernishnik. Total fouls — Monarch 21, Regis Jesuit 29. Fouled out — Hall, Akigbogun, Richmond. Technical fouls — None.